Sure, Sony Animation Studios delivered the great Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs in 2009, but this summer they brought us The Smurfs – and from what I’ve heard, it’s smurfin’ terrible.
Now there’s a new player in the feature-length animation game: Paramount Pictures, who teamed with Nickelodeon earlier this year to bring us Rango…
A pet chameleon (Johnny Depp) bitten by the acting bug is tossed from his family’s vehicle during a close call on a desert highway. He stumbles into the creature-sized western town of Dirt, dubs himself Rango, and uses his acting skills to make the townsfolk believe he’s a stone-cold killer who shouldn’t be messed with. Convinced of his toughness, the people of Dirt see Rango as the man who can help them solve the mystery of their vanishing water supply – and in turn, save their town.
With Rango, director Gore Verbinski (who worked with Depp on the Pirates of The Caribbean films) delivers a fresh, offbeat, occasionally dark, and wonderfully unique picture. Working from an intelligent, homage-laden, and often funny script by John Logan (Sweeney Todd, The Aviator), Verbinski keeps everything moving at a steady clip without it feeling rushed, while making masterful use of foregrounds and depth (no doubt to emphasize the 3-D when Rango was in theaters).
Everything in Rango is wonderfully drawn and animated by Industrial Light and Magic (ILM). There’s jaw-dropping scenery of deserts and western landscapes, and the frontier town of Dirt is right out of a classic western – featuring rustic saloons, storefronts, and dusty streets. The townsfolk include a very colorful cast of creatures filling the standard western roles: the doctor, the bartender, the banker, the mayor (Toy Story 3’s Ned Beatty) the village idiot, the Native American, and yes, even the ladies of the oldest profession.
Casting Depp as a chameleon is an especially inspired choice, given his ability to transform himself into such diverse characters as Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, and Jack Sparrow. And it’s the ability to blend in which helps Rango hustle his way to the position of sheriff and leader of Dirt’s people as they struggle to find water to keep their town alive.
Rango also features a great mariachi-meets-Dick-Dale soundtrack by the legendary Hans Zimmer, with additional songs by Los Lobos. (Bonus: You haven’t lived until you’ve heard “Flight of the Valkyries” done with banjos.)
While it’s not for all ages (see below), Rango is an original and highly entertaining adventure with a heart at its sun-baked center. Fans of animation will love it. Fans of westerns will love it. Fans of both will most likely have a new addition to their list of favorite films.
Is it suitable for your kids?Rango is rated PG. As you may expect from a western, there’s a-cussin’, and a-drinkin’, and a-shootin’ goin’ on in this here flick.
Language: There are a handful of “hells,” a cut-off “You son of a –,” and the phrases, “I’ll kill you, you stupid lizard!” “Sign the damn paper!” and “Go to hell!”
Smoking/Drinking: Several characters smoke cigars; there are subtle and obvious references to drinking and being drunk.
Violence/Scariness: There are numerous threats of violence; several animals are killed by being shot, crushed, or drowned; there are mentions of hanging suspected criminals; one character beats his grown sons with a stick; as a laugh, an armadillo is shown after being run over by a car; and Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy), while an amazing feat of animation, could be scary to little children – especially when squeezing a potential victim and saying, “Look into my eyes. I wanna see you die.” (Didn’t Johnny Cash do that to a man in Reno?)
Humor: Most of the adult jokes are probably too quick and over the heads of kids, with mentions of “fecal matter,” someone’s prostate, and taking a laxative. At one point, Rango asks a naked torso of a Barbie doll, “Are those real?” There are also many citizens of Dirt with missing or artificial limbs, and one character goes through the entire film with an arrow through his head (via his eye socket).
Will your FilmMother want to watch it?Even if she’s not a fan of westerns, she’ll most likely enjoy Rango. The characters and story are deeper than expected, and there are potential sparks between Rango and Bean (Isla Fisher), the town heroine.
* Director: Gore Verbinski
* Screenwriter: John Logan
* Stars: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy, Stephen Root, Harry Dean Stanton, Ray Winstone
* MPAA Rating: PG (rude humor, language, action, and smoking)
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